William Atherton (politician)

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Sir William Atherton QC (1806 – 22 January 1864)[1] was a British barrister and Liberal Party politician. An advanced Liberal who favoured the secret ballot and widening of suffrage,[2] he held a seat in the House of Commons from 1852 to 1864, and was a Law Officer of the Crown for four years.


Atherton was the son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Rev. William Atherton, and his wife Margaret who was a daughter of the Church of Scotland minister Rev. Walter Morrison.[2] He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple and practised on the Northern Circuit, becoming a Queen's Counsel (QC) and a bencher in 1852.[2] While practising below the bar he published 'An Elementary and Practical Treatise on the Commencement of Personal Actions, and the Proceedings therein to Declaration, in the Superior Courts at Westminster. Comprising the Changes effected by the Uniformity of Process Act (2 W. 4. c. 39) and recent Rules of Court.' Lond. 1833. 12mo.

He was elected at the 1852 general election as a Member of Parliament (MP) for City of Durham,[3] and held the seat until his death in 1864.[1][3]

Atherton was appointed as Solicitor General on 16 December 1859,[4] having previously served as Counsel to the Admiralty and Judge Advocate of the Fleet.[5] He was knighted on 23 February 1860,[6] and promoted to Attorney General on 9 July 1861.[7]

Having taken an office of profit under the Crown, he was obliged on each occasion to present himself for re-election, and was returned unopposed at by-elections on 9 January 1860 and 8 July 1861.[3] In his acceptance speech in July 1861 he called for greater unity in the Liberal Party, and supported British neutrality in the American Civil War.[8]

Atherton retired as Attorney General in the autumn of 1863 due to ill-health,[9] and died on 22 January 1864, at his home in Westbourne Terrace, near Hyde Park in London.[2]


In 1843 he married Agnes Mary Hall (died 1866), daughter of Thomas J. Hall, the chief magistrate of Bow Street Magistrates' Court.[2]


  1. ^ a b Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "D" (part 4)
  2. ^ a b c d e "Death Of The Right Hon. Sir W. Atherton". The Times. London. 23 January 1864. p. 9, col A. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. pp. 118–9. ISBN 0-900178-26-4.
  4. ^ "No. 22337". The London Gazette. 16 December 1859. p. 4739.
  5. ^ "The Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledges". The Times. London. 19 December 1859. p. 8, col E. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ "No. 22359". The London Gazette. 24 February 1860. p. 649.
  7. ^ "No. 22528". The London Gazette. 9 July 1861. p. 2833.
  8. ^ "THE DURHAM ELECTION". The Times. London. 9 July 1861. p. 5, col F. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  9. ^ "THE ATTORNEY-GENERALSHIP". The Times. London. 1 October 1863. pp. 7, col A.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Spearman
Thomas Colpitts Granger
Member of Parliament for City of Durham
With: Thomas Colpitts Granger to Dec 1852
Lord Adolphus Vane Dec 1852–1853
John Mowbray from 1853
Succeeded by
John Henderson
John Mowbray
Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Phinn
Judge Advocate of the Fleet
1855 – 1859
Succeeded by
Robert Collier
Preceded by
Henry Singer Keating
Solicitor General for England and Wales
1859 – 1861
Succeeded by
Sir Roundell Palmer
Preceded by
Sir Richard Bethell
Attorney General for England and Wales
1861 – 1863
Succeeded by
Sir Roundell Palmer